New WFP-led solutions set to transform the UN system

WFP Innovation Accelerator
4 min readMay 11, 2020

By Vincent Matak

WFP is leading the charge on two breakthrough digital solutions as part of a bold effort to enhance the wider UN system.

The two solutions — the UN Digital Identity project and the Humanitarian Booking Hub Clearing House — are the finalists of the inaugural UN Digital Solutions Bootcamp, a joint effort between UN agencies and hosted virtually for the first time ever by the WFP Innovation Accelerator. The goal was to harness the latest innovative technology to solve the most pressing operational challenges facing the UN.

Five solutions were presented at the Bootcamp to an intra-agency panel of stakeholders, with the finalists receiving funding and support for further development via the UN Digital Solutions Centre — a joint venture between WFP and UNCHR finance leadership teams, in tandem with UNICC.

The WFP-led solutions were chosen based on their efficiency and return on investment, scalability and inter-operability. Each team will now have a chance to turn their ideas into reality for the benefit of the UN family.

Creating digital IDs for UN employees

“This support from the UN Digital Solutions Centre is critical,” says Max Merelli, information systems officer within TEC’s Digital Transformation Services Unit.

“It will enable us to improve the way that UN agencies deliver vital services to support staff in their roles, helping them be more effective at what they do.”

Merelli is the project lead for the UN Digital Identity project — one of the two finalists for the Bootcamp. The project leverages trailblazing blockchain technology to create digital IDs for UN staff stored on the blockchain, in turn digitizing employee data and information.

UN staff members from FAO, IFAD, and WFP visit a farm in Burundi. The UN Digital ID project aims to create a common digital ID for UN staff across various agencies, addressing data fragmentation and optimizing shared processes. Photo: WFP/Giulio D’Adamo

The end goal is to address data fragmentation across UN agencies and optimize shared processes such as employee onboarding, inter-agency transfers, and reference checks.

The solution is expected to reduce the onboarding process from five days to four hours, pension eligibility checks from two months to two minutes, and process three million security clearance requests all under one minute, for example.

“The Bootcamp process helped us narrow the scope of our work into something achievable, and for us to turn our idea into reality,” adds Merelli.

“Now, we can push forward with a solution to streamline and simplify services across a scattered system, helping staff find what they need, faster and more efficiently than before.”

Leveraging automation to power resource sharing

The Humanitarian Booking Hub Clearing House — the remaining finalist among the five solutions presented at the Bootcamp — leverages novel Robotics Process Automation (RPA) to power the Humanitarian Booking Hub.

The Hub is a cutting-edge, digital booking platform offering a one-stop shop for humanitarian workers in remote locations to access housing, travel, medical and counsellor services from seven agencies in more than 50 countries. It also provides a global back-office for daily management of provided services.

The Clearing House is automating billing on the Humanitarian Booking Hub, the UN’s digital booking platform for services like flights, medical appointments and accommodation. Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

“The proposed solution seeks to create an inter-agency automated billing for cashless common service payments” says Alessandra Bianchini, Humanitarian Booking Hub manager and Clearing House project leader.

“The vision is to improve the experience for humanitarian workers in field operations when using UN provided services while innovating the way UN Agencies work today by offering automated cashless payments among all UN agencies.”

At full potential on all Humanitarian Booking Hub services and UN partners, the Clearing House is expected to generate more than $1.3 million yearly savings and 200,000 saved invoices.

“The UNDSC support has been instrumental in accelerating the time to market of the Humanitarian Booking Hub Clearing House which will be implemented initially with long-time partner UNHCR on reciprocal guesthouses,” adds Davide Picistrelli, Humanitarian Booking Hub Digital Manager.

Learn more about the UN Digital Solutions Centre

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.